Wearside united to breathe a collective sigh of relief on Saturday evening as O'Neill's men stumbled and stuttered their way to their first victory of the season. Whilst far from an impressive performance you got the feeling that simply returning to winning ways was the order of the day rather than fret too much over the side's showing. The main talking point of the contest, and indeed the game-changing moment, came as Jordi Gomez was given his marching orders moments into the second half. Whilst mistimed and clumsy-looking it certainly wasn't a challenge worthy of a red-card (and indeed has since been rescinded) and killed off any momentum the travelling side had following a decent first half showing.
Usually following a sending off a match-report would, nine times out of ten, read that the side with the full compliment of players went on to capitalise on the advantage and would go on to comfortably win the game... Not on this occasion. Not Sunderland. Indeed at times SAFC made a real meal out of the contest and were unable to add to Steven Fletcher's goal to make the game a more comfortable affair for all concerned. The fixture became more of a scrap, as Sunderland had to dig deep and put up a real fight to keep a tight grasp on their valuable three-points and in the end the home crowd were baying for the final whistle.
One standout performance from the fixture came from Sunderland's man between the sticks, Simon Mignolet, who made a number of fine stops to keep Wigan at bay. In fact one of the Belgian's efforts was simply stunning, a real world-class save which seemed to pass the media by with little to no real fanfare. Now, not being one to jump on the "If it had been Joe Hart..." type bandwagon... but... if it had been Joe Hart we would no doubt have been treated to endless replays on Sky Sports News, from every perceivable angle and Georgie Thompson would probably be on her way to record an hour-long special on the event. Never mind Simon, we still love you.
It would of course be extremely remiss these days when discussing a Sunderland performance not to heap praise and adulation upon Steven Fletcher who was, again, the difference for his side on Saturday afternoon. The Scot put in a stellar performance, showcasing all the attributes of fine centre forward play, leading the line expertly and grabbing yet another goal for his efforts. Fletcher also saw fit this week to speak Craig Levein and finally end a two-year dispute which has seen the forward exiled from the Scottish setup. This will no doubt come as a massive boost for anyone with an attachment to the Tartan Army who have since relied upon the services of Kenny Miller... Lets just hope Levein doesn't opt for his now infamous 4-6-0 formation anytime soon either.
There was a distinctly Scottish theme to news connected with Sunderland this week as the gaffer revealed his plans to open talks with James McFadden with regards to joining the club. It has been no secret that the Scottish International, who has been without a club since leaving Everton at the end of last season, has been training on Wearside for two weeks now and has obviously done enough to catch O'Neill's eye in that time. Whilst questions will no doubt be raised with regards to McFadden's match fitness it cannot be argued that he will bring some much needed competition for the attacking positions at the club and we wish him well.
This weekend sees The Black Cats make the cross-country trip to the Etihad Stadium, a site where the North-East outfit nearly recorded a second famous victory over the Champions. There was a genuine feeling of missed opportunity following the final whistle last year with many feeling that the side could have came away with all three points - not something that many sides having faced Mancini's men can boast.
Danny Rose revealed during the week that last season's draw has been the talk of the training ground and if, if, they can put in a similar performance filled with effort and endeavour the side will give themselves a chance. Whilst it has been clear to see for all connected with the club that the team, especially in the final third, have not quite "clicked" they have, importantly, remained unbeaten so far this season. An impressive statistic that only Chelsea and City themselves can currently boast which may just back up Rose's optimism.
Whilst Steven Fletcher has quite rightly been grabbing all the headlines so far this term, I am expecting this to be the game where Sunderland fans really get to see what Adam Johnson is all about first hand. The former City winger has endured a frustrating start to his Sunderland career, forced out of action with a niggling injury, but now appears to be close to a return to full fitness which would be a huge boost going into tomorrow's game. It is one of those unwritten rules of football that a returning player will come back to haunt their former employer and I certainly wouldn't count Johnson out of continuing this custom.
Of course, lets make no qualms about it, this will be an extremely difficult test for Sunderland, however not an impossible task. A return to form, i.e. a draw, would suit me perfectly and keep momentum ticking along nicely for some little, unimportant game we have coming up after the international break...